Gas supply cuts worsen compost crisis in Punjab

To the concern of agriculturists, gas supply to at least two fertiliser manufacturing units in Punjab has been further worsening the compost crisis, which set in before the advent of the last Rabi season.

Industry sources say the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) directed Agritech Limited and Fatima Fertiliser in writing on Saturday (April 30) to immediately start ramp-down of RLNG off-take so that the same reaches zero by midnight. The SNGPL communiqué informs the industry that the gas supply is to be diverted to the power sector in order to help overcome the electricity shortage in the country.

The RLNG supply to fertiliser plants will resume after improvement in demand and supply position, it adds.

Last year, gas supply to the fertiliser industry had been suspended from June to September making a dent of 200,000 tonnes in production of urea compost. As the 2021-22 Rabi season had started with an inventory of 116,000 tons against the 472,000 tons of the previous year, urea supply and prices had spun out of control impacting the Rabi crop cycle and threatening the coming Kharif.

Additional demand, less production, five times higher world prices leading to smuggling, domestic price spiral causing hoarding and governance issues jointly played havoc on supply and price of one of the most essential agriculture inputs.

The official urea fertiliser rate per bag is Rs1,768 but the farmers had to purchase it for Rs2,200 to Rs2,700 per bag, and that too after standing in long queues for hours.

The previous Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government had been justifying the higher prices by comparing it with international prices of Rs11,000 per bag. It had also expressed its inability to control smuggling of the compost saying none could stop the menace when price differential between the local and international markets is five times.

Ironically, all this happened despite a timely warning by the Punjab to the federal government and raising of the issue by farmers back in September.

Recalling that his SOS message to the then government had fallen on deaf ears, Pakistan Kissan Ittehad president Khalid Mahmood Khokhar fears that the urea crisis would be severer this year because gas supply to the fertiliser industry has been suspended a month before than the time it was suspended last year.

He alleges that the minister concerned had misled the previous government by rejecting fears of a shortage as mere propaganda and deflected the blame onto political opposition.

In the last two years (2019-20 and 2020-21), the country has had record production of wheat, maize and rice crop because of two drivers — an increase in acreage and in per acre yield. In the case of wheat, the per acre yield was recorded with additional application of fertiliser. Whereas another factor that increased the compost demand and its pattern is the introduction of short-duration crops, especially in central Punjab. That means a further increase in demand, which remained 6.1 million tonnes for the last many years.

But the closure of factories earlier than even the last year means a further drop in production and thus widening the demand and supply gap, bemoans Mr Khokhar.

Meanwhile, the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) on Saturday issued a price-revision notification of liqu­efied petroleum gas (LPG) for May, decreasing the commodity’s price by Rs180.28 per 11.8-kilogram cylinder, adds APP.

According to the notification, the authority reduced the locally produced LPG price by Rs15.27 per kilogram.

After the revised price, the LPG cylinder would be sold in the open market at Rs2,735.83 in May compared to Rs2,916.11 in April.

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